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Hike Yourself Fit

The Rules of the Trail

-- By Liza Barnes, Health Educator
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I was watching a rerun of "Sex and the City" the other night, in which Carrie is visiting a new boyfriend, David. They’re enjoying a nice picnic on the grassy hillside, and David mentions that there are beautiful hiking trails all around the property. When Carrie, ever the city girl, confesses that she’s never been much of a hiker, David says he recently discovered that “hiking…is just walking”. On my couch in Ohio, I joined the collective groan of avid hikers everywhere (or the imagined collective groan, since avid hikers were probably out hiking instead of watching "Sex and the City" reruns). Sure, hiking involves walking, and both usually happen outside, but the similarities end there.

The term “hiking” implies an activity that occurs in the midst of nature, specifically on a trail, in a creek bed, on a mountain, or through the woods. Because of the terrain, hiking is almost always more physically challenging than walking, and burns more calories (around 350-400 per hour) as a result. Hiking can be a reward in itself, a means of transportation, or a purifying spiritual journey (more on that later). It can be fun, tiring, exhilarating, or challenging, and it’s always good exercise. To ensure that your hiking experience is safe and enjoyable, here are some tips to prepare you for your trek.

These Boots are Made for Hiking
One of the most important items you’ll need is a good pair of hiking boots that fit you well. Blisters and cramped toes can quickly turn a wonderful hike into a miserable event, so this item is worth a splurge. There are many styles of boots to choose from, from hiking sandals to steel-toed mountain boots. You’ll probably want to start somewhere in the middle. For hiking on well-maintained trails and smooth terrain, “hiking shoes” will be your best choice. These resemble heavy-duty cross-trainers, are easy to break in, and are comfortable to wear. For slightly more rugged hiking, choose “cross hikers”, which look like the quintessential hiking boot. They are built to withstand more abuse than hiking shoes, and are intended for rougher terrain, but you’ll need to wear them around for a few days to break them in.

What you wear on the rest of your body is important too. Most experts recommend that you skip the cotton and don the high-tech synthetics, which have the ability to wick moisture away from your skin while still being breathable. In the cold months, layer for warmth, and in the warm months, wear light-colored fabrics to repel bugs.
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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

Member Comments

  • BANNERMAN
    Thanks for sharing. - 6/9/2013 1:26:59 AM
  • Hiking is not for me. - 6/8/2013 10:33:52 AM
  • A good walking stick (or two) will help you out as well, especially on uneven ground. Another thought... know the critters in the area and what to do when you run into them. If you are lucky enough to be hiking grizzly territory, skip the pepper spray and bring something with heavier stopping power unless you wish to provide him a condiment. - 8/22/2012 3:42:22 PM
  • This article is not intended to be a "one stop shop" for everything related to hiking--it is a basic introduction about the fitness benefits of hiking. We've included some additional links about safety, etc. at the bottom in other sparkpeople articles to help paint a more complete picture. - 3/28/2012 10:10:47 AM
  • Everybody, please scroll down and read CamillaParis's comment below. Better advice in four sentences than in the entirety of the original article! - 3/27/2012 10:58:47 PM
  • I really think that the dismissal of sunscreen should be edited for the sake of safety. It's dangerous to suggest that people can go out for hours with no sunscreen. Even if it were true that "most hiking is done in the shade," shade doesn't mean the absence of UV rays. I have gotten some quite spectacular sunburns sitting in deep, full shade; dappled shade from trees is no protection at all. If it's daytime and you're outdoors for more than an hour, you need sunscreen! And since UV exposure increases with altitude, it's doubly important if you're in the mountains (which is the only place you can find shaded trails in my state!)

    I really had to giggle at the idea that bug repellent could be more important than sunscreen. If you only hike in deep forest, they might be equal, but for those of us who hike desert, plains, mountains, or beaches, it's exactly the reverse. Skip bug repellent, have itchy bites for a week. Skip sunscreen, get skin cancer. Hmm.

    There's a lot of other safety information missing, as well. This seems to be geared toward hiking in tiny urban parks. Anyone hiking far enough to need a daypack needs to have enough supplies in it to survive the night if they get lost. There are several fatalities each year in our National Parks, and about 90% of them happen because a hiker thinks, "I don't need to take X. I'll only be out for a little while."
    - 3/27/2012 10:54:34 PM
  • I'm glad to see other people disagree with the sunscreen comment. I'd have to say that a great deal of my hiking is in the shade but when you get above the tree line - not so much.

    also a map won't help if you don't know where you are

    and check the weather before you go, nothing ruins the day like getting caught in a storm you were not ready for

    I think I lug too much stuff along but I don't venture out without a backpack full of things I consider essential like my GPS, swiss army knife, flint, rain jacket, first aid kit, water (possibly filter - depends), peanut butter crackers, sunscreen, bug spray, sunglasses, notebook & pen, camera, dog, dog cookies, dog cleanup bags, hand wipes, whistle, tilley hat, extra socks

    and yes I have used every single thing there

    trust me on the extra socks, nothing beats putting on fresh socks halfway through the day - 3/27/2012 9:49:38 AM
  • Anyone who wears sandals to hike is a fool and is looking for an injury. High boots also offer ankle support on uneven terrain. - 2/25/2012 10:18:19 PM
  • I have hiked thousands of miles on trails-including 2000 miles of the Pacific Crest and I rarely wear boots. I keep by pack weight light and use trekking poles-always. I also agree with the importance of carrying a headlamp, map (and skills to use) , rain gear and let someone know where you plan to hike. - 2/25/2012 2:43:42 PM
  • GAMMATUNA
    Great article. I have a great motivator. I use an app on my iphone, together with my HRM and a 60 beat gizmo. That and my nordic poles strapped on and I am off on a trail with the rhythm of some great walking tunes. When I return I can measure my progress, see where I have been on a map and upload it to Runtastic and to facebook. My friends and family are virtually cheering me on and if I wake up and dont feel like going, I just think of them and even though they wouldnt be disappointed, I feel that they might be. Boots on, map and water ready, and I'm off! - 8/9/2011 8:51:20 AM
  • Thanks for a lot of good points!

    As an aside, I'd define hiking as something like a vigorous walking activity in the natural environvent -- and for some of us that natural environment is a city.

    Cities do have hills and other physical challenges; they have a lot of beauty to enjoy; and they certainly offer variety to surprise and stimulate the hiker.

    Are they the best hiking venue EV ER? Maybe not -- but if we keep our eyes open and work for what we went hiking for in the first place, they're not that bad either. Go on out and enjoy YOUR environment, wherever you are, and I promise you'll be glad you did! - 6/13/2011 3:00:30 PM
  • New hikers should learn the 10 Essentials and always pack appropriate gear for emergencies. Ultralight medical & survival kits can be carried for just under a pound combined and just may save your life (if you know how to use the contents!). More than just packing out everything you brought in, learn about Leave No Trace at lnt.org. Always be sure someone knows where you're going and when to expect you back. For longer trips be sure to leave your itinerary under the front seat of your car along with emergency contact info. - 6/13/2011 2:18:34 AM
  • Hiking has become our favorite way to get outside. Our times are longer because we have 2 young children who likes to stop to smell the roses and have shorter legs, lol. But over time we will pick up the speed, right now we go for how far we can go without wearing out the kids. - 5/29/2011 4:12:51 PM
  • PIERDY
    I was excited to see Hiking come up as a article in Sparks. My passion for hiking began several years ago and is one of the best "mental floss" activities I have found. Awesome to see so many like minded people out there. My regular stomping ground is the Bruce Trail in Ontario. Be sure to say Hello if you happen by!!! - 3/7/2011 8:53:38 AM
  • My hiking list includes: my trusty map, a small water to take with me and a large one waiting at the end, a snack, headlamp (lost twice in the dark), MY HIKING POLES which I rely heavily on because I have bad knees, bandaids, sun and mosquito creams as necesary, my excellent hiking hat, camera when I remember, my dog with a thick leash for emergencies, my good hiking shoes and advil. I usually have a change of clothes in the car and have been grateful for them. I always hope for a friend or family member to hike with me but if by myself I leave my itinerary and expected time home. Cell phones are great but often I have no coverage - however I did use one once when facing a difficult dam crossing to tell my pickup to come looking for me if I didn't call back within a half hour. I also used the phone for when I was lost, calling home to have DH look up landmarks I could look for and DH usually brings a GPS which has been useful when we had to make an unplanned shortcut back to the car. I vote fanny pack to allow my arms to swing freely using poles. I do use boots when the hike is anticipated as being slippery or wet but like my shoes otherwise. Also make sure you take enough layers! Being too cold is miserable. Lastly, it is great to have a goal hiking. I am doing the entire Rideau Trail. It has been wonderful for my sanity, my health, and my spiritual wellness. I owe it all to spark people for getting me into hiking! - 11/6/2010 5:20:47 PM
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